Review of ‘Goodbye Old Pick’, by Ann Goddard

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 14th November 2005, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

GOODBYE OLD PICK

Derbyshire writer Ann Goddard has published this book as a tribute to her great-grandfather, Charles Lawton, a 19th-century coal miner who spent much of his working life in the appalling conditions of 'fiery' Staffordshire pits - fiery due to underground gas explosions.

At the heart of Goodbye Old Pick is a uniquely historical and often emotional manuscript written by Lawton himself, lying unread for perhaps a hundred years until it came into Ann's hands. She sets the scene for this memoir with detailed and sometimes shocking research.

In the early 19th century, for instance, children below today's school age were taken down coal mines and given repetitive but responsible tasks with 12-hour days. Strenuous work at the pithead was largely carried out by women. Outsiders saw mining communities as something of a tourist attraction, with, writes Ann ' ... many visitors coming to watch them at work in their men's clothes and totally blackened by coal dust'.

Charles Lawton rose from pit boy to colliery manager but it was as an overseer that in 1866 he witnessed a harrowing disaster caused by a gas explosion: 'We had lost 91 men and 36 horses ... it took us 5 days and nights to bring out the dead ...' Lawton's bravery was not at question but he and others were found guilty of violating safety rules. Burdened with this memory, he went on to become a highly respected fighter for safety improvements in mines.

Ironically, Ann Goddard formerly knew little about her great-grandpa Lawton due to an old family rift but Goodbye Old Pick does him proud. It is also an absorbing reminder of what 'king coal' did for Britain.

Available locally (to order quote ISBN 0-9551606-0-X) price £10. Copies also direct from the author (p&p £1.50) at 1 Plains Lane, Blackbrook, Belper, DE56 2DD, tel: 01773 823548.

Review by Julie Bunting


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